Donald Trump returns from Asia trip, now faces Roy Moore sexual misconduct scandal
World November 15, 2017 7:23 am Updated: November 15, 2017 7:26 am Donald Trump returns from Asia trip, now faces Roy Moore sexual misconduct scandal
ABOVE: U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore is denying the latest allegation of sexual assault against him, calling it a "political maneuver" even as more Republicans are calling on him to step aside.
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U.S. President Donald Trump spent five days in Asia largely keeping the Alabama Senate scandal at bay. He wonât be so lucky on U.S. soil.
The president returned to Washington on Tuesday night and walked straight into a party panic over the sexual misconduct accusations dogging GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore. Having pushed publicly and privately for Moore to get out of the race, Republicans believe their last best shot is Trump, who they hope can persuade his fellow political rebel to fall in line.Story continues below
READ MORE: Roy Moore hit by new sexual assault accusation, says itâs âabsolutely falseâ
Trump has giv en little indication of whether heâs interested in playing the role of party heavy.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has echoed other Republican leaders, saying last Friday that Moore should step aside if the allegations are true. But as other Republicans began to call for Moore to quit the race, Trump was notably silent in public.
On Tuesday, he didnât address the issue when he spoke with reporters aboard Air Force One as he flew back to Washington, nor did he respond to shouted questions about Moore as he entered the White House that night.
WATCH: Jeff Sessions says âno reason to doubtâ Roy Moore accusers
For Trump and Republicans, there are no good options. If Moore wins, they can either spend an already harrowing midterm election cycle defending t heir new colleague or overturn the will of Alabama voters by casting him out of the Senate.
If Moore loses and the seat flips to Democratic control, the party loses a critical vote in its razor-thin Senate majority, with issues like tax reform and immigration set to be considered in the coming months.
âI have to get back into the country to see whatâs happening,â Trump told reporters over the weekend as he flew from Danang, Vietnam to Hanoi during his five-nation tour of Asia.
But behind the scenes, he was vexed by the issue. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump had been involved in dealing with the Moore situation âin great detailâ during the trip. McConnell said he and Trump discussed the question on Friday, with chief of staff John Kelly and Vice President Mike Pence weighing in on subsequent days.
READ MORE: Republican Senate n ominee Roy Moore calls child sexual assault reports âfake newsâ
Trumpâs 12-day trip, the longest of his presidency, was quickly overshadowed at home by the shocking accusations of sexual assault on minors by Moore, who was embraced publicly by the White House last month after winning the stateâs GOP primary.
The shocking revelations dominated cable news for days, as Moore denied the allegations and pledged to stay in the race.
Even Chinese President Xi Jinping was drawn in. âWho is Roy Moore?â Xi asked Trump privately after they delivered joint statements to reporters, in a moment described by two White House officials not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
WATCH: Woman alleges Roy Moore sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager
GOP officials cautioned that the actions of Washington Republicans, including the president, were unlikely to affect Mooreâs decision-making â" and that any moves against him could backfire in an anti-establishment political environment.
The president backed Mooreâs unsuccessful rival, Sen. Luther Strange, in the Republican primary. Moore has the backing of Trumpâs former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. And Bannonâs conservative news site, Breitbart, has led the charge in trying to discredit the allegations against Moore, as it tries to boost the nationalistic candidate.
READ MORE: Roy Moore says sexual allegations are an âintentional act to stop campaignâ
One person familiar with the presidentâs thinking said Trump has been slow to call for Moore to exit the race in part because he risked embarrassment if, as expected, Moore defied him.
On Tuesday, the Republican National Com mittee halted its efforts on Mooreâs behalf, following similar action by the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Friday. Three Republicans familiar with the RNCâs decision, but not authorized to discuss it publicly, said Trump signed off on the move to cut Moore loose.
WATCH: Mitch McConnell says he believes the women amidst the Roy Moore accusations
Moore was already a pariah among national Republicans even before the recent allegations of inappropriate contact with minors. A twice-removed state judge, Mooreâs anti-gay and anti-Muslim rhetoric have long repelled the GOP mainstream.
McConnell has openly floated the possibility of having Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose move from the Senate to the Cabinet necessitated the special election, run for his old seat as a write-in candidate.
A source close to Sessions says he has told friends he is not interested in returning to the Senate.
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